Saturday, May 14, 2022

1 Corinthians 7:1-9: An Introduction to Marriage, Singleness, and the Present Distress


Since we are starting a new chapter today and its content is challenging and controversial, I want to offer some general introduction before looking in close detail at any of the verses. Because of the circumstances that led to Paul’s writing and the interwoven nature of the material in this chapter, it will be difficult to study the text in a perfectly straight line. We will need to refer to what Paul says midway through the chapter in order to properly understand what he says here at the beginning, and we will need to refer back to these opening verses in order to understand some of what is said later.

First Corinthians 7 is a complex chapter. It speaks of marriage, singleness, and divorce. It offers counsel in view of a “present distress,” about which we will have much to say as we study through it. But the chapter is not merely challenging because of its objective content. It is difficult because of the modern context in which we hear it. To say it plainly, I think this chapter has been widely and frequently misunderstood and misapplied in the modern American church, and some of what has led to and resulted from that misunderstanding may seem very offensive to our sensitive ears. I have been and continue to struggle with how to express these ideas with pastoral gentleness and prophetic plainness. The last thing I want is to preach it with pastoral harshness and prophetic obscurity. But how to be clear and inoffensive is hard for me to figure out, so I will ask you to be charitable in your hearing while I seek to be gentle in my speaking.

Everything in this chapter has to be read in light of the gospel and what is said in 6:18-20. You are not your own. We are called to glorify God in marriage just as much as in ministry. We are to face issues of marriage, singleness, divorce, and temptation with a gospel-centered ethic, one that acknowledges the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the implications of the cross for our choices.

Eavesdropping on a Phone Call (1a)

First Corinthians was originally a response to questions the saints in Corinth had sent Paul. The first six chapters addressed additional problems the apostle had learned about, perhaps from those who delivered the Corinthians’ letter to him (cf. 1:11). Now in chapter seven Paul finally gets around to answering their inquiries, and the first questions he takes up are about sexual temptation, marriage, and singleness.

The problem is that we don’t have the original questions posed by the Corinthians. We only have Paul’s responses. This has been compared to listening to one end of a phone conversation. It leaves us uncertain of exactly what the Corinthians may have asked. Evidently we did not need the other half of the correspondence, otherwise the Spirit would have given it to us. But we have to remember as we interpret this letter that it is correspondence and not a comprehensive and systematic treatment of everything involved in the issue. If we are not careful, we might easily infer a normative doctrine from comments about their specific, historical circumstances that are neither applicable to nor appropriate for Christians as a general rule.

Let me illustrate what I mean. I might say something like, “The Lord’s Day is a holy day of feasting; therefore, we ought to eat the fat and drink the sweet. Dieting is inappropriate on your daughter’s wedding day, and it is inappropriate on the Lord’s Day. You can diet before and after the day of celebration. So each person ought to have his own donut and cup of coffee with which to sweeten the fellowship of the saints.” Now if a member of our congregation was trying to lose weight and having trouble controlling his blood sugar and cholesterol, I might say something like, “I suppose that it is good because of the present distress—that it is good for a man not to eat donuts on the Lord’s Day.” I might also say, “But even if you do eat a donut, you have not sinned. Nevertheless, such will have trouble at this time, and I would spare you.” Now as a matter of fact I do not eat donuts on the Lord’s Day, and I might say, “I wish that all men were even as myself.” My body weight and cholesterol are better because I do not eat donuts on the Lord’s Day, but I have specific medical reasons it is inconvenient for me to do so. Now what would you think if someone heard me saying this and decided that abstinence from donuts is a special gift that more of us ought to aspire to, that someone it is holy and helpful never to eat a donut on Sunday?

This is where the illustration breaks down because there are several of you who probably think it would be great if fewer people ate a donut after worship. But don’t miss the point. There is a general rule for men and women in this passage and a specific exception, an exception to the rule; the rule ought ordinarily and in the vast majority of cases to be followed. But many interpreters take what is exceptional and make it normative or, at least, far more common than it ought to be.

The Counsel and What It Actually Implies (1b)

What does Paul first acknowledge in answering the question that had been sent to him? It is good for a man not to touch a woman. What does that suggest about the question? We will see in the next chapter that some of the “strong, super-Christians” in Corinth had written to Paul. They were hoping he could straighten out the weak and inferior brethren whose scruples were getting in the way. But in this case, it seems that the ones who had written about marriage might have been against it. They wanted Paul to affirm the goodness of celibacy, and he does… kind of, but not in the way they might have expected.

It is good for a man not to touch a woman. What does that mean? You’ve probably read that for years and assumed Paul means something like this: “It would be ideal if we could simply get away from marriage and sexual relations altogether. It’s a little icky, after all, and reducing the frequency of that kind of marital activity would leave us all more time for reading and prayer. If we could get a handle on these disgusting bodily desires we’d all be more spiritual and androgenous.”

You might not be surprised to learn that this misunderstands Paul’s point, rather badly. Why do I say so? Connect this statement with the next verse. Let me help you with the translation: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Now ( δὲ) because of fornication, let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband. Translating v.2 as “nevertheless” makes it sounds like a strong adversative,  doesn’t it? As if Paul were saying, “It would be good if you all could stop being interested in sex at all, but I guess, since you are so weak, marriage is the lesser of two evils.” But that doesn’t make sense of the strong imperatives in vv.2-5. Let me help you see the imperatives in the original language.

… because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Now you might say, “But Paul says in v.6 that this is a concession and not a command.” That’s true. Paul doesn’t command any specific person to get married. But he urges the members of the Church, as a general rule, to have a spouse and to love their spouse and not to deprive their spouse in that relationship. The rule for marriage is not like the rule for baptism, i.e. everyone must do it without exception. The rule for marriage is like the rule for arms on a human body. Ordinarily there ought to be two. Sometimes there will be only one. No one is shaming or rebuking the person who only has one arm. He gets to go to heaven too. But most people are going to have two. And the ordinary pattern for Christians is marriage, not singleness.

So what does Paul’s initial counsel imply? Get married. It is good for a man not to touch a woman. And that is why he needs a wife. The typical man, including the typical believer, is going to want to touch a woman. The rule for marriage is, in part, to prevent fornication.

The Goodness and Normalcy of Marriage (2, 3-5)

Marriage is good. Sex within marriage is great. Devotion to the priority of prayer shared by married partners even to the point of brief sexual abstinence is pure blessedness and grace. Let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband, and be sure they know what a wife and a husband are for. The wife is not there just to cook the meals and do the laundry. The husband is not there just to make enough money to pay the bills and take out the trash. They are there for communion, sexual and spiritual, but I repeat myself in this case. Sex is part of the spiritual communion of marriage, a covenantal exercise of mutual submission to the will of God and the pleasure of another.

We will return to these verses next week, so you might want to bring extra coloring pages to distract the youngest kids. But I hope you see that when Paul says he is making a concession, it is not the “Oh well, if it really can’t be avoided, I suppose let’s have marriage but as little fun as possible in it” sort of concession. No, Paul says each man and woman ought to have a spouse, except, of course, for those that don’t. Get married, and enjoy being married. All that enjoyment will probably lead to kids, so be prepared to baptize and catechize them as well.

Marriage is not just for the satisfaction of sexual desire, nor it is only for procreation. Both of these are biblical and legitimate reasons for marriage to be the norm, but there is another: so that Christians have an intimate companion for prayer. We can, should, and do pray together as brothers and sisters. We can, should, and do even fast together periodically in conjunction with times of prayer. But we cannot duplicate the intimate, covenantal experience of abstinence within marriage for the sake of prayer. There is simply nothing else like it. Marriage is the most intimate human relationship in this present world, and so too the spiritual communion experienced in it is likewise intense and unique, spiritual companionship like no other. This is why Paul assumes that married couples will periodically take a break from bodily pleasures to devote themselves to prayer, and it’s why the Book of Common Prayer so memorably says of marriage: It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

The Exception, Not to Be Made a Rule (6-7)

Paul was not married during the period we know him as an apostle in the NT, and he knew the advantages his unmarried status conveyed. While other apostles traveled with their wives when they carried the gospel to other cities (9:5), Paul had greater flexibility. He could sneak out of a city alone when his life was in jeopardy. He could remain in a community and support himself as a tent maker until financial support arrived. He was frequently arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. He was stoned once and dragged out of the city and left for dead. He was shipwrecked at least four times. Any one of these experiences would be almost impossible if he had been accompanied by a wife. The totality of them would have been unendurable, not only for Paul, but for a spouse.

Paul understood that his ability to live as he did and remain celibate was a matter of grace (χάρισμα), a gift from God not enjoyed by everyone in the Church. He knew the advantage of his situation. He could desire that others would have a similar degree of freedom and flexibility for gospel ministry. But nowhere does he suggest other apostles and ministers ought to be unmarried, much less the average Christian. On the contrary: let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.

But we should not make this expressed desire out to be more than it is. Singleness is the exception, not the rule. It is not an inferior way of life, but neither is it the primary or most desirable plan for one’s life. Paul sees the advantages it offers, and he explains them in this chapter:

But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction. (vv.32-35)

There is a level of undistracted devotion that an unmarried person can have in his or her spiritual life, but there are other advantages that marriage brings that the unmarried person cannot enjoy, e.g. spiritual intimacy in the marital covenant, relief from sexual temptations, and child-bearing as an exercise in kingdom growth.

Who Are These? And Who Does Not Belong in This Category? (8-9)

The major contextual factor in understanding what Paul says about this issue is found in v.26 but is often overlooked or under-emphasized: I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress—that it is good for a man to remain as he is: Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife (vv.26-27). Did you see the key context? Paul’s counsel here is because of the present distress. What does he counsel? Do not seek a wife. There you have it. Let’s absolutize this counsel, make it normative for all Christians, and stop having all of these babies born. No more weddings! No more births! No more catechizing young children. God forbid. Reprobates believe in fruitless sacraments: abortion and sodomy. Their tree is dead and will never bear any offspring. But the kingdom of Christ is built through conversion of the nations and covenant families. God believes in fruitful marriage, fruitful parenting, and faithful people to a thousand generations.

I cannot stress this enough: What Paul says in vv.6-8 is what he says in v.27, i.e. do not seek a wife… right now. This is not a normative principle. This is not saying that singleness and celibacy is to be preferred to marriage. It is not suggesting that there is some widespread gifting which allows vast swaths of young people in the Church to live as spiritual eunuchs. It is simply apostolic wisdom, counsel given to saints who are being persecuted, not a divine command. If you are likely to be arrested, if you may have to flee from your business and home, if you are more likely to die at the stake than in the old folks’ home, then this may not be the best time to begin courting. But Paul immediately says: But even if you do marry, you have not sinned (v.28). That settles it. We are talking about advice for specific circumstances at a specific point in time. We are not establishing a new normal of monastic celibacy.

In the last 20+ years there has been a lot of Christian writing and teaching on the “gift” of singleness. I do believe that God calls some people to be single. There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake (Matt. 19:12). Fair enough. God also gives some people grace to serve him with a disability, or a chronic disease, or in poverty, or in the midst of great suffering and loss. There is grace in all of these conditions of life too, but we don’t treat them the way many evangelicals have come to treat singleness. In many Reformed denominations there is a huge number of unmarried young people. Why? No doubt there are many reasons. The impact of feminism, the softening and coddling of young males, the prioritizing of education and careers over building homes and families, etc. But might one of the major factors be the changing attitude toward singleness? Our promotion of the virtue of singleness has led many young men and women who want to be married to wonder whether they are called to be single. But young people are also asking whether they might be gay or transgender because many of their friends suddenly decided they are. The fact that something is trendy and popular does not make it true. If you want to be married, you aren’t called to singleness. If you think you are called to singleness but are struggling with porn, you are a fool. The gift is celibacy, not singleness.

“Virginity, I acknowledge, is an excellent gift; but keep it in view, that it is a gift. Learn, besides, from the mouth of Christ and of Paul, that it is not common to all, but is given only to a few. Guard, accordingly, against rashly devoting what is not in your own power, and what you will not obtain as a gift, if forgetful of your calling you aspire beyond your limits.” –John Calvin, Commentary

There is a difference between chastity and celibacy. God calls everyone of his children to chastity, i.e. sexual purity appropriate to our current station. I am married, so it is lawful for me to look at, think about, and enjoy my wife. It is not lawful for me to look at, think about, and enjoy other women in the same way. I may notice that God made a certain woman beautiful, but I must discipline my heart, my mind, and my eyes immediately and continually. Chastity for the married looks like sexual monogamy—and joyful monogamy, as we will see when we return to vv.3-5. Chastity for someone who is not yet married requires abstinence, discipline of the eyes and mind while actively seeking, praying, and watching for the one to whom he or she may be given. All of us are commanded to practice chastity, but very few are called by God to lifelong celibacy.

There is one more point that I will only briefly mention. I do not have time to develop it, and I am not prepared to be dogmatic about it. You may think that it is obvious whom Paul is referring to in v.8 when he says the unmarried and widows, but I think what he may be referring to something other than what you’re assuming. The word unmarried is only used in the NT in this chapter (vv.8, 11, 32, 34). In v.34 it refers to a virgin, a “never before married” person. But in v.11 it refers to a person who has been abandoned or divorced. I think a good case can be made that when Paul refers to unmarried and widows in v.8, he is referring to those who were married but who are no longer married due to the abandonment or death of their spouse. I also think a case can be made that Paul was in this category. I would not be dogmatic about it, but if this is so, it further reinforces that this advice is specific to a particular set of historical circumstances, since Paul elsewhere counsels young widows to remarry (1Tim. 5:14). This is not a large group of spiritually gifted celibates but a group who have been providentially released from their former obligation to a spouse and are now being called to use that freedom more fully for Christ.


I warned in the introduction to this sermon—which is itself an introduction to the chapter—that some things would be said in these lessons that might seem personally convicting or offensive, and even now I tremble to think of that being the case. But as a preacher, I am called to simply preach the Word as we come to it without fear or favor. Moreover as your pastor, I hope you find this chapter to not only be convicting but liberating and empowering. God is not calling you to agony and morbid introspection, staring constantly at your belly button hoping it will whisper to you whether you are called to be married or not. We need much less pseudo-spiritual self-absorption in the Reformed community and more joyful and energetic obedience in pursuing the will and pleasure of God.

If you want to be married, then you probably ought to be. People who are gifted and called to a life of celibacy are not generally filled with God-given passions and desires to be otherwise. Don’t look at your desire to be married as an inferior path or something to be ashamed of and suppressed. View it instead as a sense of divine calling. Be patient, but persistent. Pray, prepare for, and pursue a godly spouse. Did I mention pray? I can’t emphasize the importance of that enough. Did I mention prepare? You are not building a home while sleeping in your parents’ basement. You are not cultivating the resources to provide for a wife by spending 14 hours a day practicing to go pro playing Halo. Get a job, pursue a career, save money, be responsible, stop watching porn, act like a man (or woman), and be the kind of person someone else would want to marry.

Because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. That’s good advice. Until you have a spouse, be pure and faithful. Once you have a spouse, be pure and faithful. And if you never have a spouse, or never have another, be pure and faithful. God calls us to holiness: inside, outside, and through the covenant of marriage. –JME

Monday, May 2, 2022

1 Corinthians 6:19-20: You Are Not Your Own


Earlier in vv.9-18 the apostle Paul warned the saints in Corinth of the distinct danger posed by sexual sin. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, the apostle says, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. This suggests there is a Christian understanding of anthropology. We do not merely adopt the framework of unregenerate sociologists, biologists, and metaphysicians. We must think more carefully and critically about such matters. As it turns out, it makes a difference whether you think that man is a verbal monkey with no higher purpose than survival and reproduction or that man is made in the image of God and exists for him. These two views lead to different conclusions about what it means to be a person.

The final two verses of chapter six are significant in their theological content and its import. Here is a definitive theology of Christian persons: we are embodied souls, bought by the blood of Christ, inhabited by the Holy Spirit, designed and redeemed to glorify God with both our body and our spirit which belong to him. We see here that the thinking of so many believers, sincere though it may be, is wrong. We are not our souls, per se; we are embodied souls. A person is both body and soul, not one without the other. This is part of what makes death so terrible as the separation of body and spirit and why it must be repaired by the resurrection. We cannot remain in that disembodied state. Human beings are not pure spirits; we are both spiritual and material, and both the spiritual and the material aspects of our person are to be employed in the service of God.

Your Body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (19)

The Lord directed Moses to build the tabernacle in the wilderness, a sanctuary in which the divine glory would reside among the Israelites. Solomon later built the Temple with the Lord’s blessing and instruction, and after that Temple was burned by the Babylonians and the nation taken into exile, a remnant of the captives returned to the land and rebuilt the Temple which still stood in Jerusalem when Paul wrote our passage between AD 53-55. But those physical structures were only signs and types of the true Temple in which God would dwell. As Paul himself said when he preached in Athens: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands (Acts 17:24). The Tabernacle and Temple were built to teach Israel about the concept of holy spaces, but the Scriptures are clear that God sanctifies his people as the holy place in whom and with whom he is pleased to dwell.

The Bible does not say your mind is the temple of the Holy Spirit. I grew up in churches where some, not all, denied that the Holy Spirit actually inhabited the bodies of believers. They believed the indwelling spoken of here (and elsewhere) was only representative and figurative. One proponent of that view told me many years ago: “The Holy Spirit is in me the same way my dead mother is with me. She is still with me as I remember what she said.” That’s an interesting thought, not remotely biblical, probably close to downright heretical, but interesting nonetheless.

The Bible says your body (τὸ σῶμα ὑμῶν) is the Spirit’s temple which he inhabits. If that were not sufficiently clear, the apostle goes on to say: who is in you, whom you have from God. So God the Holy Spirit dwells in you, in your physical body. That means several things. Your body is part of you. You’re not just in your body; you are your body (not solely but inclusively). But it also means the Spirit is with you all the time. You’ve never been alone as a believer. When you viewed a pornographic video, he was there. When you got unjustly angry, he was there. When you were unkind to your wife, he was there. He saw it all. How might you act differently knowing that?

You Were Bought at a Price (20a)

You have been bought and paid for, body and soul, your whole person, your whole life. Paul does not say here what that price was that was paid for us, but we learn what it is elsewhere in Scripture. Conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1Pet. 1:17-19). You were redeemed—liberated by payment of a ransom—with the blood of Christ. That blood is precious. The lifeblood of the Son of God was spilled so that you and I would be delivered from sin and judgment, set free to worship and serve God.

So long as we are thinking about personhood, do you have any idea what you are worth? We are accustomed to resisting pride and our natural tendency to exalt ourselves, and it is good and necessary that we do so. But do you understand what God did to save you, what it cost him? Do you know how vastly more precious and valuable Jesus’ blood is than any currency or commodity in this world? Don’t minimize that payment by imagining that it is somehow insignificant because he rose from the dead on the third day. It’s not as though Jesus got his money back. He bought you and me. He bought the Church. It cost him dearly; it demonstrates his great love and faithfulness.

So many people today, especially young people, are depressed, discouraged, hopeless, and lazy because they imagine they are worthless. The life you may be choosing for yourself right now may be! If you are constantly on social media, looking to the world to tell you what you are worth, allowing unbelievers to define beauty and value, living on Tic-Tac and to play video games, then yes, your manner of life may be worthless. But you are not. You were bought with a price. You are made for more. You are precious in God’s sight, lovely because he loved you. The Bride’s beauty is the love of the Bridegroom. Don’t waste what Jesus bled and died to save. Be captivated and delighted by the love of God, and then live with the security and aloofness such love supplies.

Therefore, Glorify God in Your Body and Spirit Which Belong to Him (20b)

You and I are not to denigrate what Christ bled and died to redeem, and that means you. Of course, it includes more than you, personally. It speaks of the Church as a whole, Christ’s Bride. We are not supposed to denigrate the visible Church either. In chapter 3 Paul made a point of the corporate indwelling of the Spirit—Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are (3:16-7). But here, although the pronouns are plural because he is speaking to the whole congregation, the temple to which he refers has an individual aspect. Your body, your spirit. This is not the body of the congregation or the spirit of the local church; it is a reference to the body and spirit of each member of the congregation there. Every one of them were bought by Christ and so were indwelt by the Spirit and consecrated to his service.

You are not only a temple, you are an instrument of priestly service to the Lord. Your body, as well as your spirit or mind, is to be employed in God’s work: worship, meditation on heavenly things, service to others, and a moral life. Worship and service is not merely done on Sunday. It is everything, every part of our existence. It is an aspect of everything we do. This is who we are and what we are made for, so whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (10:31). You are not only a steward of your Sundays and of your money. You are a steward of your body, of your whole life. Many Christians think about spiritual obligation as a matter of doing devotions, giving time to God in the morning so that you are free to do whatever else you need or want to do. But serving God is not an item on our to-do list. It is the paper the list is written on.

You are not your own. You were bought with a price. The Spirit of God inhabits your body and your body and spirit have been redeemed and consecrated for something more. Live like it. Live as an instrument of worship. Do everything—eating, drinking, studying, working, training, resting, loving, and dying—to the glory of God by doing it all by faith in Christ, with gratitude in your heart, in obedience to his Word, for his glory and not your own.

Application: Glorifying God with Your Body & Biblical Sexuality

One of the challenges in preaching is determining what applications to focus upon in each given text, week after week. It’s not as if there are an unlimited number of options. We are to preach the Word, not merely the gospel, not merely what is true, but the Word, i.e. the Scriptures. That is a mandate for exegetical and expository preaching, and that is what we are committed to providing as the mainstay of the church’s teaching here at ROPC. But in any given passage, there are multiple ways in which the text might be faithfully applied. What do we focus upon? We cannot be exhaustive, because that would be exhausting. Today would be only the first sermon in a ten year series on these two verses, and even then, we would not be able to exhaust their truth. So how do we decide what aspect and implications of a text the church needs to hear on Sunday?

Some preachers avoid this by subscribing to a sort of hyper-redemptive-historical model of preaching. We believe preaching should unpack Scripture passages in the context of redemptive history, but there is a school of thought that goes by this name that can be reluctant to make—one might even say aggressively opposed—specific and extensive moral applications in the preaching. The thinking goes that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to apply the truth to the hearts of believers, and we don’t want preaching to become moralizing. Fair enough, so far as that goes, but this view of preaching simply cannot be reconciled with either the examples of faithful preaching or commands about it in Scripture. The prophets, Jesus, and the apostles all made specific, extensive, and highly personal application of God’s word to the Church, and we don’t get to dodge the responsibility by pointing out that they were inspired and we were not. The command is to preach the Word, and that involves not only telling people what the text says but also what it means.

Fortunately, we have a long and rich history of application of the present passage so that very little work has to be done today. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is why you should not smoke, drink, or chew, or hang out with girls who do. I was assured as a teenager that this passage forbids tattooing—evidently we are not called to decorate the temple of God—and by that same logic and principle we might go ahead and forbid our ladies to wear make-up, our daughters to paint their toenails, and our sons to wear their baseball caps backwards. (It won’t keep the sun out of your eyes if it is turned around that way, so we have to assume you all do it because you think it looks cool to not know how to wear a hat.) So long as we are listing things we ought not to do as temples of the Spirit, we might mention your intake of trans and saturated fats which is really out of control, your appalling lack of exercise, and the silly phenomenon of selfies.

With applications like these, it’s not surprising that some Reformed preachers have decided we ought not to bother. I hope you see what is wrong with this use—we ought to say misuse—of the passage. But the fact some people have mishandled these verses rather badly does not mean they do not mean anything. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, and you are to make use of your body in a way that brings glory and honor to God, to make an holy use of it, not desecrate it by foolish and faithless behavior.

This text has a lot to teach us, and I think we would profit from reflecting on what it means for some of the issues that are hitting very close to home, issues that are tearing western civilization apart right now, dividing and destroying social unity and norms, and contaminating the Church in profound and profoundly troubling ways. I want you to think about what it means to say that the Holy Spirit inhabits your body, not just your soul, but your body. What does it mean to glorify God with/in your body, not just in your life but in your body? Human bodies have certain features which are designed by God. Some want to disregard these features or change them, but what God’s Word says here suggests a different path. This text speaks to the embodied service of God, the physical aspect of glorifying our Maker. So what do these verses teach us about gender and sexuality?

The Created Order, Beauty, and Goodness of Gender Distinctions

Human beings are beautiful creatures. If you accept the world’s definition of beauty, then that statement is not actually true. Some human beings would then be beautiful, and many would not be. It is true, even in a biblical model, that many people have uglified themselves, and that trend is becoming more common, not less so. But strictly in terms of creation, human beings are beautiful. They are one part of the work God performed and then described as very good.

I want to be respectful and tactful, but I also want to be clear. Human beings come in two types: male and female, and these two models come from the factory with different hardware and software. I ought to be cautious in my remarks. After all, I am not a biologist. But that kind of gives away the game, doesn’t it? Women are not men, men are not women, and they differ in more ways than just their relative strength or sex organs. We are not denying there are differences in individual men and women. Not every personality fits a rigid stereotype. But there are certain characteristics associated with men and others associated with women, and despite the fury of Christian feminists on unsocial media, we learn this from both natural law and the Bible.

God made men and women very good as men and women. The Fall did not change that. The curse did not make maleness and femaleness inherently evil. Men are not naturally oppressors; they are protectors. Women are not naturally gossips and nags; they are interpersonal, emotional communicators. The Fall may have twisted these tendencies in various ways, but maleness and femaleness are still good and part of God’s created design.

What is beauty? Let me give you one (of many) examples of how Scripture speaks to this. Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God (1Pet. 3:3-4). Ladies, did you hear that? A gentle and quiet spirit is beautiful and precious in God’s sight. There are masculine virtues that are pleasing to God as well, such as being responsible, providing for your family, and working hard. Some of these virtues are for both men and women in the Body of Christ. Paul was gentle like a nursing mother in caring for the Thessalonian saints, and the sisters in Christ in Corinth were commanded to “play the man” (ἀνδρίζομαι, i.e. be brave, 16:14). But don’t let this confuse you—and don’t let goats and wolves use this point to deceive you. God’s vision for the Church is not an androgynous one. It is creationally, ontologically, and eschatologically gendered.

The Implications for Gendered Piety

Reformed churches are wrestling with evangelical feminism. The ideology made inroads long ago, but more lately it has become mainstream and is being platformed and promoted by elders and pastors who are eager to prove how sensitive they are to their sisters in Christ. This kind of feminism is being accepted in churches that stand against female ordination, for now, but that insist “a woman can do anything an unordained man in the church may do.” This argument is widely accepted within our own denomination, the OPC—which I consider unfortunate since I think it is demonstrably untrue. We should value our wives and daughters more than that and not denigrate their contribution to the Body of Christ by comparing their competencies and opportunities to an unordained man. Adequately addressing that issue would take us far beyond our text today. But our passage does speak about embodied, and therefore gendered, piety.

There certainly have been men who abused power, acted tyrannically, and interpreted submission in ways that are broader and more restrictive than Scripture allows. We should be willing to acknowledge these errors and correct them. But the fact that there may be some truth mixed with the error does not change the fact that evangelical feminism is an error that will prove deadly to churches that embrace it.

There are many ways in which what Christ commands men and women to do is the same. We are both image-bearers of God. We are called to faith, repentance, and obedience. We are to exercise dominion in our respective spheres of activity and influence. But when we start trying to identify what those spheres of activity and influence are, we are immediately confronted with a simple fact that many are trying to evade or deny: the Bible teaches a form of gendered piety. What do we mean by that? We mean there are important differences in what Christ commands men and women to do and to be. He tells a woman to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit and to submit to her husband. He also tells women not to put on clothing that pertains to a man (Deut. 22:5), a reference to armor and the implements of warfare, which should settle the question of women in combat and that business about unordained men. Men are to be godly men, not just androgynous Christians. Women are to be godly women, not just unisex disciples. There is a beauty in that, a propriety to it. It is part of God’s design and command.

What does that have to do with our text? Obviously Pastor Joel has left the reservation and introduced an application to this passage that is in no way related to it. I hope not. Look closer. Paul says to glorify God in your body. My wife’s body is not like mine. My body is not like hers. We not only think differently, we have different physical organs. Maleness is part of my created structure; femaleness is part of hers. That maleness and femaleness have been redeemed, bought by Christ’s blood, and are consecrated for divine service. I am to use my male body in service to Christ; my wife is to use her female body. We serve him with more than just our bodies, but Paul identifies the body here in particular. That means created hardware is part of the new creation. I am regenerate, and regeneration does not mean losing my physicality or sexuality. It means having it crucified, resurrected, and glorified. Our bodies are not what they one day will be, but what they are today belongs to Christ and is to be used, just as they are, for his glory.

The Implications for Same Sex Attraction

How does this help us think about homosexuality and same sex attraction? Men and women are sexually complementary; they are made for each other. Homosexuality is rebellion against nature as well as against revealed law. Every part of your body was made for a purpose. Homosexuality denies and defies that purpose. It is not only disobedience; it is embodied stupidity.

Just as Reformed churches are wrestling with evangelical feminism, so too are they battling Side-B Christianity. Side-B Christians, who also refer to themselves as gay Christians, affirm that homosexual behavior is unlawful, but they affirm that homosexual desires, while disordered in some ways, are morally neutral. God gave them these desires, and so these desires are not sinful; they simply must be suppressed. How long do you think that will last? Understand the logic: “God made me this way, and the desires that I feel are morally neutral and not wrong in themselves, but I must never act upon them because to do so would be wrong.” What other God-given desires do we view like this?

What does this have to do with our passage? Again, look at what Paul says. Your body is redeemed and consecrated by Christ, an instrument of divine glory. But homosexual desire views that body in a way contrary to creation and biblical law. Both your body and your spirit are to be used for God’s glory. Do homosexual desires in man’s spirit glorify his Creator? Does the desire to use the body contrary to nature glorify the One who designed that body and governs its existence?

You are not your own. This is the fundamental principle. You say, “But this is how I feel, it is how I’ve always felt!” Maybe so. All of us have sinful desires that we battle every day. But what should we do in those cases? Is a desire to cheat on my wife with another woman morally neutral? What about a desire to kill someone unjustly? Is it only the behavior I must suppress, or should I also repent of the desire? Glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

The Implications for Transgender Madness

Our government is funding, approving, and promoting the practice of vivisection on our children. What used to be an element of science fiction and a reason for abhorring Nazi Germany is now charcterized as the moral choice for children who identify as something other than their biological sex. The incidence of gender dysphoria has skyrocketed in the last decade, and some courageous social scientists have noted this is because of social pressure and a desire to conform, which young women are especially prone to.

God made us, including our bodies, according to his purpose, for his glory. We need to tell our children: it is good to be who and what God made you. Young men, it is good to be a man, so be strong, brave, hard working, godly men. Young ladies, it is good to be a woman, so be godly women. That will take strength and courage, because it will mean rejecting social pressure in order to pursue a life of obedience to God. Do not conform and cave into the madness of this moment in human history. Your body is beautiful, because God made it. Young ladies, don’t let social media influencers make you think otherwise. You don’t need to conform to their image of a beautiful body. Young men, there may be helpful role models of masculinity in society, but be sure you are pursuing a godly image and not a worldly version of manhood that fails to take into account the law of God, the Lordship of Christ, and your responsibility to cherish, provide for, protect, and die for your family, just as Christ has done for his Church.


You are not your own. Your life may not have turned out the way you hoped it would. Your body and your health may not be what you wished for them to be. But you are not your own. Your life was bought by Christ. Your body is inhabited by the Holy Spirit. You belong to Jesus, body and soul, and you exist to worship, obey, and enjoy him. Every other definition of personhood or personal worth fails. Let Scripture be our teacher. Let us learn to think clearly and courageously about ourselves, even if it means standing against the whole world and segments of the Church. Let God be true and every man a liar. Glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. –JME